THE HARMONY AND DISCORD OF ONE CAMPUS MARRIAGE
The Swans cut classes to get married. Now, they never look back in sorrow, but they live in a slum on $30 a week, save like magpies, and fight till they're sick to their stomachs. Their marnage blows as hot and cold as the music they both study . . . and study . . . and study
CANADIAN BRIDES and grooms are marrying younger every year. In 123,877 marriages in 1949 there were 29,195 brides under twenty years old. Ten years later, in 132,477 marriages, there were 40,883 brides under twenty.
A lot of these youngsters are still going to school — in fact, married couples are more common on Canadian university campuses than three-letter men. In a sample taken a few years ago almost nine percent of thousands of undergraduates were married. In Canada and elsewhere, adult alarm has attended the undergraduate rush to the altar. Anthropologist Margaret Mead complains that “intellectual life demands some kind of a postponement of early domesticity,” and adds, “Early domesticity has always been characteristic of most savages, of most peasants and of the urban poor.” Recently a somewhat less cutting but more specific comment came from the Anglican Bishop of Cariboo, the Rt. Rev. R. S. Dean, who said, “Early marriages are robbing Canada of its future leaders, causing men who should get an A to finish college with a B.”
That is a fair sample of the statistical and critical views of campus marriages, but it doesn’t tell much about who the kids arc, w'hat marriage does to the way they work and play, or whether the austere alarm of anthropologists and clergymen means much in the lives of two real, if young, people. The best way to find these things out is to take an intimate look at one couple: John and Charlotte Swan are the pair who occurred first to the secretary of the University of Toronto Student Council. They
aren't typical, but then w'hat married couple is?
I met the Swans at their two-room apartment in a low-income housing project in a run-down neighborhood of Toronto. John, a slight, wiry towhead with a wispy embouchure beard à la Dizzy Gillespie, has been earning his own living since he was seventeen by playing the trumpet in such varied places as the Lux burlesque house and the Granite Club. He is selfcontained, controlled, reasonable and comes from a gentile family he describes as “very Colonial-furniture.” At twenty-three he looks like an earnest, underfed boy and sounds like a sophisticated, highly intelligent man — which he is. Charlotte is a big girl, buxom, bouncy and down-to-earth. At twenty-one she still has a somewhat childish quality; her nature is impulsive, enthusiastic and open. She broke away from the protective home of her prosperous, Orthodox Jewish parents, who came to Canada from Poland in the 1920s, to study music and to marry John.
The Swans are both students at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music where several dozen music students graduate each year. Last spring Charlotte completed the three-year course in Music Education, and John, who had finished the same course a year earlier, ended his first year of work toward a master’s degree. They had been married for a year and a half, living a hand-to-mouth existence on John’s uncertain earnings, which average thirty dollars a week.
John Sw'an leads a double musical life. An habitué of the Toronto “jazz scene” since the
age of fifteen, he plays both modern and traditional jazz in various after-hours clubs. He is also hired to play for a number of dance bands: “That’s what paid for my musical education and it’s still keeping me going.” At the university he has been an outstanding student of classical music. He organized a classical brass trio and quartet, played first trumpet in the National Youth Orchestra, and was for two years conductor of the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra. His ambition is to teach music in a university. Charlotte is an accomplished pianist.
Music drew them together. “Aside from that,” says Charlotte, “the only thing we had in common was that w'e were both only children; spoiled, arrogant and stubborn, never giving in on anything.” John adds with a confident grin, “She may have a strong character, but I'm a domineering bastard.”
In spite of their differences, the Swans were a great deal alike in the way they reacted to utterly dissimilar backgrounds. When John decided that the trumpet would be the most important thing in his life, he went directly against the wishes of his parents, who were “basically conservative, strait-laced and terribly concerned with security. They wanted me to be something with substance, like an architect or an engineer — not a wastrel musician.”
Charlotte also started early to break away from her family, and for the same reason. “They didn't understand it when I got serious about the piano in high school. From their point of view', it wasn’t right for a girl to be too deeply interested in CONTINUED ON PAGE 54
continued from page 15
They were married Monday morning, housekeeping Monday afternoon, back in school Tuesday morning
anything except getting married.”
Because of their parents’ opposition, both Charlotte and John worked for a year to pay their own first-year fees before entering the Faculty of Music. Their romance, (“I chased him,” says Charlotte. “She chased me,” says John) was clandestine. John calls it “real Tristan and Isolde stuff,” because Charlotte never dared let
him so much as meet her parents. Her mother had five sisters, her father five brothers, all of whom had many children, and Charlotte felt certain that all of these dozens of close relatives would have been horrified if they had known she was dating a Christian—her father most of all. John’s parents, who professed far more tolerant views, lost their detachment when he an-
nounced his engagement to Charlotte. “They couldn’t believe it at first — that’s the way they are with everything I do. 1 hen, when they saw I was serious, they got terribly angry. It was all right for other people to marry Jews, but not for me.”
When they decided to become engaged, John and Charlotte had no intention of
marrying until Charlotte’s graduation, a year and a half away. But the bitterness and fury of Charlotte’s arguments with her parents drove her out of the house within a month. Since her mother wouldn't hear of her sharing an apartment with several other girls until graduation (a compromise she was willing to make), Charlotte decided, unilaterally, to elope.
“One Monday morning,” John says, “there came Charlotte struggling across the campus looking fat. She had ten sets of clothes on and about a dozen pairs of stockings. She was so bundled up she could barely move. But she was afraid that if she’d carried a suitcase her parents might have stopped her. So we found a justice of the peace to marry us at City Hall — there was nothing else to do.” To placate Charlotte’s family they were later married by a rabbi, but it took four months to find one willing to perform the ceremony.
There was a wedding party in their best man’s apartment, and the Swans’ classmates chipped in to give them a steam iron. That afternoon they began keeping house in a furnished apartment with a few pots and pans from a discount store. The next morning they were back in their classrooms.
As far as they were concerned, marriage had been forced on them by the violent opposition of Charlotte’s parents to their engagement. Many other undergraduate marriages are equally unplanned, for a variety of reasons, and the young couples often find themselves without any source of financial support. Frequently the brides abandon their own educations for full-time jobs that will support their husbands. If the wife doesn’t leave school, the young husband must work long hours at unskilled, poorly paid part-time jobs that often take so much out of him he has to quit school himself. John Swan, one of the lucky ones, has always made just enough money blowing his horn to keep them both. At one time, to earn an extra ten dollars a week, Charlotte took a parttime job selling candy in a movie house. After six months she became frantic at what the job was doing to her studies and gave it up. The thirty dollars John earns come from two playing dates, almost always on Friday and Saturday nights. He can afford to take that much time away from his books.
John’s horn also made the Swans independent of their parents—a necessity in their case. Although both families are now more or less reconciled to the marriage and John (willingly) and Charlotte (reluctantly) have dinner every week with each set of parents, they are proud of their self-sufficiency and hide their financial problems. “If we were taking help from our folks I couldn’t stand it,” says Charlotte. “When we had to sell John’s old Volkswagen last year .o help pay my last term fees, my father wanted to buy it and let us drive it during the summer. But we sold it to a used car dealer—we felt it wasn't right to become obligated like that.”
They've had to learn to live with a perpetual shortage of money. Before his marriage John lived at home and was able to run a car and spend his earnings freely. Charlotte, whose mother made her a new dress for every date, had never cooked a meal or made a bed in her life. Now they pay twenty dollars a week rent, spend eight dollars a week on food, and have exactly two dollars left for all other expenses. Their diet leans heavily on spaghetti, hot dogs and beans, and hamburger. They take their own sandwich
lunches to school and Charlotte unabashedly cadges coffee and cigarettes from understanding — and unmarried — classmates. The Swans have never had to call a doctor, but there is a crisis whenever John has to go to the dentist; a trumpeter's teeth must always be in perfect condition. The dentist, who has known them a long time, lets them pay him with five cheques postdated a month apart. There have been at least a dozen times when they’ve had an empty refrigerator and no more than a dime between them. For one week last winter they lived entirely on peanut butter sandwiches, and the two meals they had with their families. Whenever there is even one dollar to spare Charlotte buys meat and puts it in the freezer.
From time to time John plays with a television orchestra, w'hich pays a hundred dollars for a night’s work. This manna has always appeared just when they needed it most. John says. “I just don’t worry about money any more. We’re satisfied with very little — if you're security-minded, you’re doomed.”
University fees, w'hich amount to more than $1.000 yearly for two of them, have been John’s greatest single expense. He and Charlotte both take summer jobs, and whatever they can manage to save goes for fees, as does the small sum he received for conducting the university orchestra. Never-
theless both the Swans have been forced to take out student aid loans.
Charlotte isn’t as relaxed as John about money, although she tries to be. Sometimes she has to fight off fits of depression caused by not being able to buy a single new piece of clothing since her marriage. But she is matter-of-fact about walking miles across Toronto every day to save streetcar fares, baking her own bread because it’s cheaper, and doing their laundry by hand in the bathtub. ("It costs a quarter for the washing machine in the basement and another quarter for the dryer — riuiculous!”) Actually it makes Charlotte feel proud and strong to know that she’s taught herself how to keep house on almost nothing.
She has also learned to live in an environment very unlike the one she grew up in. The Swans' small apartment is clean — except when Charlotte is writing exams — and comfortable enough, but it is in a building Charlotte rightly describes as “pretty sordid.” She can watch her neighbors getting drunk on beer while their children bash in doors and windows, break into the candy vending machines in the basement, and steal from cars in the garage. “You have to lock your front door even if you’re just going to the incinerator.” she says. Charlotte carries a hunting knife in her handbag. Street corner loafers infest the streets at the time she comes home from evening classes.
She’s a flirtatious, gregarious girl who had many dates before she met John. Now lack of money and the need to study keep her home seven nights out of seven, with rare exceptions. During the week both of them practise their instruments two hours a day, attend classes and then study every night till two in the morning. On Saturdays John composes and works with his chamber music group; Charlotte practises
at the Royal Conservatory of Music almost all day. Sundays they attack a week’s accumulation of hopse cleaning and Charlotte practises for at least four more hours. Week-end evenings are Charlotte's only free time, but John has to spend them working. “We've only been out twice together on a Saturday night in over a year,” she says. “We can't live like normal young married people. Saturday night, when John's «working. 1 just flip. Once 1 called everyone I knew, but no one w'as home.” It doesn’t make it any easier for Charlotte to accept her solitude when she real-
izes that John's work takes him to the jazz world in which she feels thoroughly uncomfortable. Before the Swans met jazz was the centre of John’s social life, but Charlotte just doesn’t get along with jazz musicians. "She’s out of place there,” John says. “She doesn't enjoy coming along to the clubs when 1 play. If she does come, she's an outsider.” Charlotte says, “1 just can't come on cool — 1 don’t know why.” In the last year John has gradually retreated almost completely from the social side of jazz, and consequently has been getting fewer jobs. “The jazz scene is
super-sophisticated — you have to be one of the elect. And it’s bigoted: to them, outside of jazz there’s nothing.” John feels that it's a good thing that Charlotte has detached him from this life (“She's a bloody anchor,” he says affectionately t but he admits that sometimes he has “pangs of longing to get back to the jazz scene. You can never really get away from it because there's a creative element there you have to have.”
John first became interested in jazz at twelve, when he saw a Kirk Douglas movie called Young Man With a Horn. At thir-
This marriage of musical minds has been bad for two sets of nerves, excellent for two scholastic careers, and even better for two young backbones
teen he persuaded his parents to give him a trumpet for Christmas, and by the time he entered the Faculty of Music at nineteen he was a seasoned professional musician.
“Technically I could play better than a lot of people but musically I knew from nothing. I got a bit hostile — most music students at the university have a snobbish attitude toward jazz. When 1 became conductor of the orchestra my jazz friends used to come around and say. It just doesn’t swing, baby.’
“I'm in the middle now — and probably always will be. The jazz types suspect me of turning square, the academic musicians think I might be too hip."
This pasl summer John received a full scholarship to the Vale Summer School of Music and Art, awarded after Vale had heard tape recordings of his’ playing. 1 he scholarship was in applied music, which is primarily concerned with actual instrumental performance.
John has hopes for a continued scholarship to Vale. He estimates that it will take another year's work for him to get his master's degree, at which point he will be ready to teach the playing of brass instruments at a university.
John’s “terrible hunger”
He is taking a different and far more difficult course than the majority of graduates of Canadian music schools, who usually plan to teach in high school if they use their degrees at all. Dr. Richard Johnston, an associate professor in theory at the Faculty of Music, says. “John's in a tough spot. The only way you can be sure of employment teaching music is in the high schools. W'e have just a handful of university music schools in Canada and there are almost no jobs open. But John has to get his master's degree to satisfy himself. He’s got a terrible hunger for it.”
John's plans for an academic future, which are now so important to him. are largely the result of his marriage. "If I hadn't met Charlotte I’d be in Furope now gooling around with a pack of beatniks. Before I was married 1 just wanted to have a good time. Now I feel 1 have to be a good husband and, corny as it sounds, contribute something to society with what talent I have."
At one point John almost gave up. Six months after the Swans married, when John graduated from the course in Music Fdueation. he announced that he planned to start teaching high school music as soon as possible so that he could stop being what his parents called a "professional student" and start earning a living. Charlotte insisted that he go on to graduate school She threatened to leave school herself if he didn't go on, because she knew what it would eventually mean to him if he gave up his dream just to get them out of an economic pinch. “I knew' he’d be miserable teaching high school — he wants to teach at a university because it will leave lots of free time to develop his playing and composing.”
Marriage has also strengthened Charlotte’s scholastic career. According to Dr. Johnston, when she entered the Faculty of Music she was not a good student. "But in the last year she absolutely amazed me." Johnston says. “She became much more serious and developed musically more quickly than I thought she would. Most of this change is probably due to her observation of the way John applies himself to his work. He’s much more mature, too. since his marriage. Whatever he says. 1 don’t seriously think he was ever really headed for the beatnik path — he’s got enough character to taste that life and then pull back. He works harder and faster now because he has a wife to support and to adore him."
1 have no doubt, after talking to the
Swans, several of their other professors and many of their friends, that marriage, for these two undergraduates at least, was good for their university studies. But this marriage has also created powerful emotional pressures that have complicated their lives.
“We fight once a week to let off steam.” C harlotte told me. "We scream, yell, slam the doors, throw glasses. If it happened more than once a week we couldn't live with each other—we'd be nervous wrecks." John adds that sometimes these arguments can ruin an entire day for him. "1 get such an upset stomach that I can’t practise."
Religion is the only subject the Swans
don't fight about. Neither of them has any strong religious convictions and they plan to expose their children to a variety of beliefs. But no other subjects are taboo; neither each other's families and the many strains still involved in these relationships, nor their lack of money and all the daily frustrations it brings, nor Charlotte's hatred and resentment of her lonely weekends, nor the problems created by their separate groups of friends.
The most serious arguments they have are usually triggered by Charlotte’s intense desire to have a baby. She is deeply maternal, and although she is only twenty-one she lives with a constantly nag-
ging awareness that she will never be satisfied until she has a child. At the same time she recognizes realistically that John needs another year of study before he can begin to earn more than a bare living -and even then a job may be very hard to lind. The only practical and logical thing for Charlotte to do now would be to spend a summer studying at the Ontario College of Education so that she could begin to teach high school music, a field in which the demand for teachers exceeds the supply. This could pay her $6.000 a year. Rut Charlotte is timid about facing a class of teen-agers: she doesn't feel that she is experienced enough to control them. Besides,
all she really wants is to stay home and take care of a baby. John says, "I wouldn’t mind waiting till I'm thirty to have children but Ed like to be able to have one now for two reasons; to make Charlotte very happy — and to get her out of my hair."
For the moment they've shelved this decision. John and Charlotte leave in October to spend a year in Europe. They feel that this may be the only year of their lives when they'll be free to travel. They’re off on a shoestring; just enough money, furiously saved over the summer, to get them across the ocean. The pickup work for musicians in England is good, it